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Chilling Out

Chilling Out

Gregory Blair

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Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re chatting with Gregory Blair, writer, director and star of the new horror/comedy hybrid “Garden Party Massacre,” which has been entertaining people on the festival circuit throughout 2017 before reaching a wider audience later this year.

We recently sat down with Blair to discuss his multi-hat wearing ways, what the film says most about him as a filmmaker, and why he’s so excited for 2018.

TrunkSpace: Often films can linger in creative limbo for years before they have their first frame shot. What has the journey been like for “Garden Party Massacre” from inception to completion? When did the idea first strike you and when did you officially consider the film finished?
Blair: This film happened relatively fast. I got the idea in Fall of 2014, wrote the script, cast it and then we started gathering crew, setting shoot dates and all the rest. It still took over two years from start to finish, but that’s on the fast side for feature films.

TrunkSpace: You wrote, directed, produced and starred in the film. As far as your own personal skill sets are concerned, which does the film best represent in terms of who you are as a creative person while wearing any one of those particular hats? Where did you shine most on “Garden Party Massacre?”
Blair: That’s probably a question best answered by people other than myself. I’ve won awards on all fronts, so far, so there’s no real clear winner, as far as I can tell. And that would be okay with me. If I had to choose, I’d say it shows off my writing the best because, when I watch the film, I see other choices I could have made as a director and an actor, but I never really see anything I’d change about the script.

TrunkSpace: What do you think the film says most about you as a filmmaker?
Blair: Again, I’d love to know how other people would answer that question. I would say it likely shows most clearly that I don’t need much to make a film. At least as far as money and bells and whistles. The shoot was low budget, one location, small cast and no cool toys like specialty cranes and drones and the like. As long as you have a solid script and good people behind and in front of the camera (and in post), creativity flies all over the place… and that’s what makes a movie special.

TrunkSpace: The film has received great praise on the festival circuit. Has the reception been a surprise, and ultimately, what was the goal when you decided to put the film together?
Blair: The goal was just to make another film – using everything I learned from the first one; that people are loving it and that it’s winning awards is just sweet icing on top. You never know if people are going to like or hate your work… and both usually happen to some degree, so I think worrying about it is a waste of energy. Just do what you love, do your best and let it go.

TrunkSpace: The horror/comedy hybrid can sometimes be a difficult sandbox to play in, especially in terms of finding the tone. What approach did you take to establishing the voice of “Garden Party Massacre” and making sure that it didn’t veer too far off in either the horror or the comedic direction?
Blair: I’ll be honest: I love that hybrid genre so much; I’ve never cared if a film veered more in one direction or the other, so I never had any concerns when I was writing this. I think I was aiming more for comedy than horror, though. The title came to me and made me laugh, so that was kind of the through line from the start. And after the dark, brooding “Deadly Revisions” I was up for something light and silly.

TrunkSpace: You’ve been working in the industry for over a decade now. What have you learned through doing that you think someone would have a hard time learning in a classroom? Is filmmaking a hands-on industry?
Blair: I think you can learn a lot both ways: being on set has the advantage of also allowing for networking and becoming a familiar face… and being in a classroom allows you to learn in a more directed and focused atmosphere. But, yes, ultimately, you will learn some skills only on a set… and a good example would be how to stay focused on your job responsibilities despite interruptions, distractions and derailments. Think of it as surgery and you’re the head nurse: your job is to anticipate the lead surgeon’s needs. You want to be the nurse that hands the surgeon the needed tool before he/she even has to ask for it. That’s something you learn on set by watching others and doing yourself.

TrunkSpace: Horror seems to be a genre that you have spent a lot of time in. Has that trajectory been by design or has it been more about fate playing a hand in the path that you’re now on?
Blair: Well, I always say with a face like mine, horror and comedy were always my best options. And I always liked both genres, so that seems like kismet. I think they are actually not as dissimilar as they ostensibly appear to be: they both depend on a character’s reactions to situations – often to operatic proportions. And I’m pretty fearless when it comes to taking a joke or a creepy moment as far as I can. People seem to respond to that; the horror crowd happens to be embracing it more and more right now. I never planned for that, but I’m honored it’s occurring.

TrunkSpace: That being said, what is it about the genre that continues to interest you and keep you passionate about the work?
Blair: It’s always been the same thing for me since day one: the thrill, the adrenaline rush, the catharsis. All of which are related to the emotional element, not the visceral; to the fear factor, not the gore factor. (Although some of my favorite horror films are quite bloody, that’s not the thing that makes them beloved to me.) I love taking that roller coaster ride from the safety of my comfy chair: it’s a strange joy to be able to experience the most impossible horrors and then be rid of them after an hour and a half. We get to exorcise some of our angst. Since the horrors in our real world cannot be so easily and timely dismissed, I think it’s oddly therapeutic: it wakes you up, shakes you up, makes you appreciate being alive.

TrunkSpace: Going back to the many hats that you wore on “Garden Party Massacre,” and on many other projects for that matter, do you view them all as different careers or do they all fall under the same umbrella? Could you focus on just one of them for an extended period of time and be creatively fulfilled?
Blair: I see them as part of the same thing: extensions of myself, if you will. The jobs all inform and inspire each other: I think I’m a better actor because I understand what a director needs; I think I’m a better director because I understand what an actor needs, what a producer needs, etc.; I think I’m a better writer because I can’t write a line I can’t act, I know what sorts of things a producer cares about… and so on. But, yes, I could happily be an actor and be totally fulfilled; that’s what I was born to do; the other film hats grew from the desire to create opportunities for that… and for opportunities for other actors and filmmakers and audiences. For more movies.

TrunkSpace: The industry has changed quite a bit in recent years, particularly on the distribution side. It seems easier than ever for a filmmaker to have his/her projects seen, but at the same time, more difficult to engage an audience to sit down and watch it. What approach have you taken to marketing and giving your work the best chance of finding an audience?
Blair: Boy, I wish I had an elegant, uniquely insightful answer for that, but the truth is I feel a little like we’re all stumbling around in the dark. There’s no “one way” or “right way” to any of that anymore. For me, it’s just been a matter of continuing to keep putting myself out there. The more I do, the more people I meet, the more people see my work, the bigger my impression becomes. That dynamic helps market you and your work on its own… and that’s something money can’t buy. It’s a great example of perseverance over time, learning from mistakes, forging good relationships, etc. So, never give up. Where there’s a will…

TrunkSpace: As the industry continues to evolve, one of the mainstays that always seems present, no matter what’s going on in reality, is horror. In your opinion, why is horror such an evergreen genre that doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon?
Blair: I think because it taps into something primal. No matter how sophisticated and civilized we get, fear is a base emotion we can’t escape, and horror will always be a part of our world. Much of what we perceive as funny or moving evolves with the zeitgeist, but fear of the unknown remains. And that’s what great horror taps into. And it never dies. No matter how rational and wise we become, if we’re alone in the dark and we hear something unknown and unfamiliar, fear will find us.

TrunkSpace: You have a slew of projects due up, both in front of the camera and behind the scenes. What are you most excited about as you dive head first into 2018?
Blair: I’m excited about several projects. I’ll be playing the lead antagonist in “Safe Place,” a disturbing slasher meets social commentary, and an insane cannibal preacher in “Between the Living and the Dead,” a post-apocalyptic nightmare with an incredible cast. Of course, “Garden Party Massacre” should be out later this year along with the period horror film “Heretiks,” which is based on my original screenplay and stars Michael Ironside and Claire Higgins. And then “Fang,” the creature feature where I play creepy caretaker Harold, a character I think/hope could become my Freddy Krueger. Fingers crossed.

Click here for more information on “Garden Party Massacre.”

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Chilling Out

John Kassir

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*Feature originally ran 3/16/17

Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work on the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re chatting with John Kassir, an actor and voice-over talent with a diverse resume that includes turns as Elliot in the recent “Pete’s Dragon” remake and as Meeko in Disney’s “Pocahontas,” but it’s his pun-riddled run as the Crypt Keeper from HBO’s long-running series “Tales from the Crypt” that has cemented him as a pop culture icon.

We sat down with Kassir to discuss how he became the Crypt Keeper, his unexpected involvement (and win) on “Star Search,” and where the voices originated from.

TrunkSpace: How did your career as a voice actor come to be? Was it always in the cards or did it just sort of happen by accident?
Kassir: Well, you know, it’s funny because… I grew up in Baltimore and I always loved performing. I got involved in productions and that kind of stuff as a kid and also I’d do my own little circuses out of the basement for the neighborhood kids. I’d only charge them a penny but I’d charge them five cents for the penny candy, so I made a little.

TrunkSpace: That’s like the movie theaters charging eight bucks for a small coke!
Kassir: I was ahead of the movie curve for sure.

But that was a lot of fun. I used to do a lot of characters and voices and make my friends laugh and that kind of stuff. And then once I got to high school I had a buddy of mine, Fred Smyth… I know that name doesn’t mean anything to you but any of my high school friends would always remember the two of us doing the morning announcements. (Said as a proper English fellow) “The following morning announcement was due to a grant from the Mobile Corporation.” You know, we’d feature impersonations of the teachers and the Beatles and whatever event was going on at the school. And of course we’d wind up getting free tickets to all of the events if we would do the morning announcements and mention, you know, the gymnastic club or whatever.

TrunkSpace: So you were working as a voice actor before you were even working.
Kassir: That kind of started my whole thing with writing little routines and actually doing voices, you know, with a purpose of actually doing them. So it’s something I always did, but it’s not something that I thought would be a major part of my career, so to speak.

TrunkSpace: Did you go to school for acting?
Kassir: I got my degree in Theatre at Towson University, which has a really well known theater department now. When I was at school there were people like Charles Dutton, who a lot of people know as Roc from the TV series and from various great movies and shows. And Eric King, who was on “Dexter.” He played Doakes on “Dexter.” So, there were some really good actors that went to school with me. Dwight Schultz who was Madman Murdock on “The A-Team” and of course was on Broadway in “The Crucifer of Blood” and also starred on one of the “Star Trek” series. And John Glover came from Towson, so I had the opportunity to not only work with my generation of actors through the school but also Dwight and some of these other guys would come back and do shows with us or they would do workshops or that kind of thing.

So, I got my first Off-Broadway show right out of college and moved to New York and it didn’t last very long. I think it closed after three weeks of inner-fighting between the creative team and the producing team, so I got that dose real quick. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: Were you making a living as an actor at that time?
Kassir: I was making a living doing street performing in front of the Metropolitan Museum. It’s how I survived. I had decided early on that I wanted to make my living as an actor, whatever way I could do it. One of the jobs I had when I first wound up with no work in New York was doing singing balloonograms and that kind of thing. I was like, “Well, at least I’m performing.” But, for the most part I made most of my living for six years in New York in the early 80s street performing and whatever theater came up would come up. I also worked with a comedy group that came out of Baltimore, which was some of the funny people from my college. We were called Animals Crackers and we were kind of Baltimore’s version of The Second City.

So, in that show… in that group… I would do a bunch of different characters and voices. We would do sketches. We would write a new hour and a half sketch show every month and put it on at one of the local dinner theaters in Baltimore. And we kept a core group of us together when we moved to New York and wound up touring for the USO doing comedy all over the world for the Mediterranean Tour and the South Pacific Tour for service men in different parts of the world.

TrunkSpace: The voice work came back into the spotlight there for you?
Kassir: I guess that was a continuation of doing some of the voice. One of my signature routines was I’d do the “Wizard of Oz” in about 10 minutes… like the entire movie with all of the characters and everything. And when I was in New York trying to make it, I had auditioned and landed the role in an Off-Broadway musical called “3 Guys Naked from the Waist Down,” which I know sounds like a gay review from the Village, but it wasn’t. (Laughter) It was a musical about stand-up comics. Think “Dreamgirls,” but with three male stand-up comics. It starred myself and Scott Bakula and Jerry Colker. Jerry’s main career has been as a writer, be he started out on Broadway in shows like “A Chorus Line” and “Pippin.” We played three different stand-up comics. Scott played the kind of quintessential MC and Jerry played the angry lawyer-turned stand-up comedian trying to make his point. And I played, of course, the very kind of damaged, suicidal, Andy Kaufman-ish type character who really only had a connection to the world through his comedy. So the three of them weren’t very good at life, but the three of them together really clicked and they become a three guy team. In the play we shoot into stardom and we get our own TV series and we play all of the agents and we also played all the newspaper reporters and the whole thing. It was a really fun musical. It was a hit Off-Broadway and while I was doing the show, I was approached by these talent scouts and it was for the very first season of “Star Search.” They approached me and said, “Hey, we’d like you to be on our show.” I’m like, “What, as a singer?” I was doing a musical and I can sing, but I was no Sam Harris, let’s put it that way. He was the guy who was doing so well on “Star Search.” And they were like, “No, we want you to come on as a stand-up comic.” And I said, “Well, you know I’m not really a stand-up comic and it’s just a part I’m playing in the show.” And they go, “Well, you can win a $100,000.” And I went, “Fuck, I’ll do it.” I was like, “Did I tell you about my stand-up career that I’m working on?” And so I had to start coming up with material. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: $100,000 is great motivation to work on a routine!
Kassir: Oh hell yeah! We were making, I think, $650 a week or something Off-Broadway. My first Off-Broadway show I made $175 a week and shared an apartment with four other people, but once I was doing “3 Guys Naked,” I mean, that was it! Probably $650 a week was the most I had made. I may have made more than that on a really good week doing street performing, but this was the first time legitimately I was making more than $500 a week and then these guys are talking about going to win $100,000. So, I’m like, “Okay, how am I going to come up with a routine?”

TrunkSpace: What approach did you take in coming up with a routine?
Kassir: I started going back into some of my solo material that I had been doing while I was with Animal Crackers. We had two and a half minutes so one of the first routines I had to create was taking my 10 minute “Wizard of Oz” and turning it into a two and a half minute version of “Wizard of Oz.” (Laughter) Some of my favorite comedians were Ernie Kovacs and Burns and Schreiber. These are guys that most people don’t even remember… today’s generations of people, but certainly my generation we remember these guys as brilliant comedians that came out and did funny Tim Conway-type routines. Steve Martin would go on and do the Great Flydini. I was doing that stuff, with a third hand kind of bit, before Steve Martin even did that. It was an old clown routine that different comedians would take and turn into almost a Vaudeville act. So I would go out every week and I kept doing all of these different bits and I would do all of these voices and characters in my routine. Basically most of my act was based on a guy who was addicted to television and could change the channels in his head. I’d be doing “Star Trek” and then I’d be doing “Wild Kingdom” and then I’d be doing the “Wizard of Oz” in two and a half minutes and I’d flip through the channels. And I kept winning.

TrunkSpace: That character would be more difficult to pull off today with all of the channels that there are now.
Kassir: (Laughter) I know! At one point I’d start haywiring and I’d go, “I’m hooked up to 158 channels and there’s still fucking nothing on.” Of course, now it’s like 1500 channels.

But, I’d talk about, you know, as a kid there were three channels and UHF, which we don’t really know what that was. There were three channels and I’d get down early in the morning to fight with… we had five kids in my family… and I’d get down and turn on the channel that I wanted to watch and then hide the knob to the TV set. There wasn’t even a remote to fight over, you know? (Laughter) And I would do all of my favorite cartoons as a kid. Felix the Cat. The Jetsons. And I’d do all of these different characters in my act and I wound up going up against Rosie O’Donnell in the semi-finals. She was relatively unknown at that time and I beat her. And then I went up against Sinbad in the final. He was relatively unknown and I beat Sinbad. And all of a sudden I’ve won “Star Search.” I won $100,000. I’ve got to come up with a routine fast. I had the bits that I was doing for the show, but now I had to come up with… the first thing they started doing was booking me opening for The Temptations and the Four Tops on their T’N’T Tour. Lou Rawls. Bobby Vinton. Tom Jones. Tom Jones was a guest on “Star Search” and he said, “I want that kid to open for me in Vegas.” Everybody’s like, “Congratulations,” and I’m like, “How the hell am I going to do that? I’ve got no fucking act!”

So, I started creating this act based on this guy who’s addicted to television. He goes to Tubeaholic meetings and tries not to watch too much TV, but winds up channeling TV through himself and all of the different characters and the voices… the pop culture that we grew up with through television is basically the idea of it. And that’s when people started asking me to audition for their voice-over work. My first series that I landed on HBO was called “1st & Ten.” That was about a football team and starred Delta Burke as the owner of the team and Jason Beghe, who is on “Chicago P.D.” He was a quarterback on the show and Chris Meloni was a quarterback on the show one season. We had a lot of real football players on the show. And I played the Bulgarian field goal kicker that could kick 60-yard field goals. I came from a soccer team in Bulgaria and it was a really funny character. I had a great time doing it. And then I got a call saying HBO wanted me to come audition for another series they were doing called “Tales from the Crypt.” I had grown up with the comic books so I was like, “Oh my god! I can’t believe you’re going to make a show out of this. This is awesome!” They were looking for someone to play the character the Crypt Keeper and I didn’t know what I was going to do when I went down but they had the audition at Kevin Yagher’s studio where he was working on the puppet and was able to get a sense of what he looked like. I saw that he had holes in his throat and rotting teeth. He had all of the fun puns from the comic book, which it was funny to watch some of these other comedians and voice actors that were auditioning for it. They were looking at the script going, “Oh my God, these puns are terrible.” I’m thinking to myself, “They don’t get it.” This guy (the Crypt Keeper) thinks it’s Shakespeare. He loves saying this stuff.


TrunkSpace
: It was interesting because as a character the Crypt Keeper seemed to appeal to younger audiences while the show itself was obviously aimed at a more mature crowd. Was that by design?
Kassir: You know, it wasn’t by design but they should have thought of it. We had no idea that kids were watching this show. First of all, HBO was mostly only watched by adults. Secondly, not everybody had HBO the way they do now. A much smaller percentage of television sets had HBO. We knew the show was popular because people started having “Tales from the Crypt” parties at their house and inviting people over who didn’t have HBO. But, I think they probably never would have let go of the rights if they knew that kids grew up with “Tales from the Crypt” and had been watching it. Now of course, I’ve found this out because people started asking me to come to conventions. I was like, “Really? There’s still people that would care about ‘Tales form the Crypt’?” And they were like, “Are you kidding? We grew up with it. It’s the reason we’re into horror. The Crypt Keeper was our favorite horror host.”

TrunkSpace: He was the gateway horror icon.
Kassir: (Laughter) Right. The marijuana of horror. But he was also, for the show, he was the ride up to the top of the peak before the roller coaster dropped you down. But, it makes total sense. When I was a kid, if I saw some creepy puppet on TV, I would certainly want to watch it every week. I loved ventriloquist dummies and stuff like that. If one of those things was on TV, it was like, everything else went away and I was just watching that.

TrunkSpace: Another fascinating thing about the show was that the A-List actors of the time would stop by, which back then, was not a common thing in television.
Kassir: Yeah. Well, definitely having some of the top producers in film as our producers made a huge difference. They were really dedicated. William Gaines was still alive and had given them his baby. He had given them 500 stories from his comic books to license and use. They were really dedicated to trying to make the show into a comic book come to life. You’re talking about Joel Silver and Richard Donner and Walter Hill and Bob Zemeckis and David Giler, who did “Aliens.” These were the top guys in the business and some of them still are. They got the best actors. They got the best directors. They got the best composers to do the music. HBO gave them the platform to do anything they wanted. HBO had a slogan, It’s Not TV, It’s HBO. That was coined while one of the execs was sitting in the audience watching a screening of the first episode of “Tales from the Crypt.” Somebody goes, “Wow, this was really great television.” And somebody goes, “It’s not television, it’s HBO.” And they were like, BING! It became their tagline for I don’t know how many years. (Laughter) Up until then, everything was sports, sex, and comedy, which was working well for them, but here we were having an opportunity to really do something different. They even used the comic books as storyboards so that some of the shots were even set up to look exactly like the frames out of the comic book.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned how the rights were sold away, but if we’re not mistaken, HBO still owns the rights to the character the Crypt Keeper, correct?
Kassir: They retain the rights to that particular Crypt Keeper, but they can’t use him as a crypt keeper because they don’t own the rights to “Tales from the Crypt” anymore.

TrunkSpace: He’s the Pun Keeper now.
Kassir: Exactly. The Pun Keeper. Jack Wahl… I call him the Crypt Keeper’s pimp, but he’s really quite extraordinary and over the years he has found some amazing projects for the Crypt Keeper. He’s always thought of the Crypt Keeper as an actor. He’s always thought of him as me and Kevin’s puppet. It was sometimes hard to book him because it not only involved me, but it also involved four or five brilliant puppeteers to bring him to life. It wasn’t always an easy task to get the Crypt Keeper work as an actor unless you didn’t see his face and it was very easy just to book me, which I think is one of the reasons why I’m so well associated with the Crypt Keeper. If you go to the Hollywood Museum on Hollywood Blvd, they have the Crypt Keeper sitting in a chair. It doesn’t say “The Crypt Keeper,” it says “John Kassir.” (Laughter) I can’t mind that, to be that associated with this character, but at the same time, I don’t look like that! (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: What must be amazing for you is that you have clearly left your mark on pop culture by having played the Crypt Keeper, but at the same time, you’ve been able to still live a somewhat private life and just be John?
Kassir: Totally. You’ve hit your finger on that. Literally I went from obscurity in street performing to walking down the street and being stopped by everybody after winning “Star Search” to not really liking it that much. You know, I enjoyed the celebrity because it got me good work, but I didn’t really enjoy it in terms of loss of privacy. I was a stand-up comic. Let’s face it, I love being in front of an audience and having attention, but at the same time, there was a lot to give up. I didn’t want to be a flash in the pan. I didn’t want my career to be one of these quirky comics that came and went.

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Chilling Out

Mickey Keating

PsycopathsFeaturedImage

Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re chatting with Mickey Keating, writer and director of the new film “Psychopaths,” which is set to arrive on digital home entertainment January 2.

We recently sat down with Keating to discuss the “Psychopaths” gestation period, how his experience shooting it differed from his previous films, and why he hopes his work sits in your head longer than you sit in the theater.

TrunkSpace: What has the “Psychopaths” journey been like for you? Was the film gestating in your mind for a long time prior to being put on paper and ultimately into production?
Keating: Oh yeah. I wrote the first draft of the script a long time ago. It was totally different. And then the script came together right after we wrapped my third film. I was down in Florida, and I just had this idea, and so I started writing. So it’s been in my life for about, probably, three or so years now. We shot the movie really quickly, but then we edited for almost a year, which was really an exciting exercise and a totally different experience. And now, it’s kind of like shoving the baby bird out of the nest. As soon as it comes out into the world officially, I’ll have empty nest syndrome and start panicking.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned that the original draft of the script was totally different than what it is now. Are you happy that original version didn’t become your shooting script and that you had time to let the story breathe and develop further?
Keating: Absolutely. That’s always the process with all of my films, in some way. From an outside perspective it makes it seem like I make films really quickly, but the reality of it is that typically these movies are kind of… I’m hoping and praying to get them out into the world and to be able to make them. They’re really all slow builds. And so, yes, I’m very, very thankful that there’s always a barrier because first drafts of scripts are typically never great.

TrunkSpace: In a lot of ways they’re kind of mind dumps, right? It takes time and sometimes separation from the material to see where it needs to be improved upon.
Keating: Totally. I think there needs to be a long time to develop. And now, with my new films that I’m working on, I’ve taken it even further in terms of preparation. I’ve started cutting full-on animatics so now we can actually watch the entire films before they’re even made, which is a very new, exciting thing.

TrunkSpace: From a directing standpoint, did you approach your job differently in any way with this particular film?
Keating: I think with every film, you’re pleasantly surprised when you go from storyboarding to seeing the camera rolling. And for this one, I think it was very thrilling just to be able to see these characters come to life. And that’s what I really wanted to do first and foremost with this film, was just make a movie about the characters, and the experience that they kind of go on, before anything else. And so what was so great was just being able to go to an actor, like Ashley Bell, like James Hébert, like Jeremy Gardner, and just say, “Here’s who was in my mind for a little while, now they’re yours and you can do whatever you want.” So we really built the characters together. That was really exciting and different, because with all of my other films, they’ve been kind of less like that. This was the first kind of really freeing moment.

TrunkSpace: And so often in horror films, the “bad guy” is not necessarily a character, but a boogeyman like device.
Keating: Totally. And we really wanted to do something a little bit different than that. My rationale was, it’s a movie called “Psychopaths,” it’s got mass killers, so we’d better do something different than what people are expecting, or else we’re screwed.

TrunkSpace: Where do you see “Psychopaths” falling into the current horror climate?
Keating: It’s funny because for me, I love horror movies, but I don’t really keep my finger on the pulse of what’s new coming out, to an extent. I always feel like there’s a five to 10 year barrier of whether a movie will last or not. And so really, the effort that’s the most important to me was just to make something where if it comes out, God willing we finish the movie, hopefully it’ll last and people will be able to talk about it for longer than its theatrical runtime – to make something that sits in people’s minds. So it’s not necessarily the instantaneous reaction that I’m looking for. I want to make a movie that hopefully lasts, and sits in your head longer than you’re in the theater. That’s the effort that I put into it.

TrunkSpace: It does seem like that when horror is done right, it has a longer shelf life than a lot of other genres.
Keating: Absolutely. And so that’s what I really kind of tried to do – that process of looking at these movies that really inspire me. It’s like, “Why are we still talking about Dario Argento, or Mario Bava, or Takashi Miike?” Obviously Takashi Miike to a lesser extent because the guy makes 100 movies, but why are these movies from the ’60s, like Roger Corman’s “The Trip,” still important to me? That’s what I really wanted to try to step up and do.

TrunkSpace: When you go back and screen your films after completion, do you see different aspects that you didn’t pick up on the first or second or third time around? Does your own POV change?
Keating: Well, truthfully, I think, it’s hard for me to ever go back and watch my films. What I do, they’re very personal and they’re very kind of emotional in the sense where when we make a movie, we pour literally everything that I love about movies or that I want to say at that time, into the film. And so, it’s really kind of hard for me to go back and watch them, because I’m like, “Oh, well this is what I was feeling at this point in my life, when I got to make these films.” So, do I find new things? Maybe I do, but there’s a little bit longer of a barrier that I…

I’ll answer that question in five years, I think. (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: For the viewer, a film is the memorable part, but for a filmmaker, because it’s such a long process that you put all of yourself into, the experience must be such a meaningful part of the equation?
Keating: Absolutely. And you know, it’s kind of hard to not be able to see your fingerprints on the statue or the sculpture. My sensibility, too, is like, once the movie is done, it belongs to the world. And so, I’m always interested in hearing what people’s perception of my movies are, because that might not have been a way that I think about it. But an answer is always right and an individual interpretation of a piece of art is right. And that’s very exciting, even if that’s not the initial intention.

TrunkSpace: At this point in your career, you’ve yet to direct anything that you haven’t also written. Do you see a time for yourself where you’ll step behind the camera and direct a project that you didn’t pen?
Keating: I think never say never. There are a lot of films and filmmakers that I love that don’t write their own movies, but right now, I really just do love being able to have that freedom that I’m not going to infuriate the writer if we decide to improvise on the set, because I know him pretty well. (Laughter) That’s the process that I always want to be able to have. A film is a very organic process, and to shape it from day to day, you should have a plan, but always be willing to embrace the improvisation and the spontaneity, to an extent. And so, I don’t want to infuriate a writer who is very close to their script.

Psychopaths” is available on digital home entertainment January 2.

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Chilling Out

Larry Fessenden

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Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re chatting with horror icon Larry Fessenden, actor and CEO of Glass Eye Pix, whose latest film, “Psychopaths,” arrives on digital home entertainment January 2.

We recently sat down with Fessenden to discuss his creative simpatico with director Mickey Keating, why he loves working in genre films, and how he became an unexpected legend to fans of horror filmmaking.

TrunkSpace: In addition to acting in “Psychopaths,” you also served as executive producer. Could you see director Mickey Keating’s vision for the film when you first read it?
Fessenden: Well, I’ve known Mickey for some years now. He was an intern at my company, Glass Eye Pix. He was always just a real film enthusiast. I liked his early films, so we’ve been talking about movies for a long time together. Then he made a film specifically for us, called “Darling,” which I produced also with Jenn Wexler, who was on “Psychopaths.” He’s a real cinephile, so it’s fun. We talk about movies, in terms of old ’70s artists like Altman. So I could see “Psychopaths” pretty much in my mind once I was reading the script. It clearly is a mosaic of images, and appalling situations. It’s still impressive what Mickey and his crew can do for very little money. It looks like a really classy, beautifully lit film, with a lot of cool long takes, and other things that you associate with bigger budgets. So it’s always exciting to see what he’s up to. He’s always going to try to get a little bit of a different vibe. Mickey is a visualist, so you’re going to get something cinematic out of him.

TrunkSpace: Because you guys have worked together numerous times over the years, does that mean you sync up creatively?
Fessenden: It’s a friendship. We still argue about things, and that’s fun too. He’s truly an insatiable filmmaker. There’s always going to be something there that is compelling, visually or aesthetically. In that regard, we’re aligned in that I really look forward to his creative choices. As I’ve often said, his editor, Val (Krulfeifer), is very important to his process. Even after the film is shot, and you get a version of it, the work hasn’t been finished. There’s going to be a lot of jostling about the edit. Then comes sounds. Any filmmaker knows that sound is as vital as the picture, in a weird way.

TrunkSpace: Especially in the horror and thriller genres. It sets the table and heightens the emotional experience.
Fessenden: Absolutely, and this is something he is really, really masterful at. It’s fun to see his choices. He uses a lot of music. He uses really interesting music, and that’s one approach. Then there’s sound effect choices. As I’m talking about the movie, I’m always sort of picturing different scenes, like I’m running it fast on the screen of my mind. Once again, that’s really where my affection for the movie lies, is in the visuals.

TrunkSpace: Does both producing and acting in one of Mickey’s films go hand in hand?
Fessenden: Well, I’ve actually acted in every one of Mickey’s movies. Even when I didn’t show up on set, I did a voice in “Ritual.” I did the phone call. It’s just sort of a tradition. We’ll see how long we keep it up. But more importantly, he came to me as a producing arm. We had other producers, and guys who put the money in, but he likes to work with Glass Eye, because Jenn Wexler, who works with me, is really great – boots on the ground. She came out to LA and got things cooking. Then I think Mickey is loyal to Glass Eye, and likes to be under our banner, because we try to make cool, unexpected, indie horror movies. So we’ve had a nice association. We did a movie called “Darling,” which was quite different, just a single character, black and white, but also, another stylish, bold move in his little canon of films.

TrunkSpace: Is it important to you for Glass Eye to remain producing stuff within the genre brand, but at the same time, being diverse in the storytelling aspect, because your company seems to take chances that others would not?
Fessenden: I appreciate that. One of my talking points is that horror is an amazing, big tent. My least favorite is horror comedy, but we’ve done one that’s very charming called “I Sell the Dead” that’s about grave robbers in the 18th century. We’ve done robot movies. We’ve done movies like “The House of the Devil.” So I do love the diversity of tones, and styles, and even sort of degrees of pulpiness that horror can afford. We don’t only make horror movies, but when we do, we like to push the envelope. I sort of contrast it to everybody’s favorite producer, Jason Blum, who has always kept this single house routine going. We prefer to do different things. Even at a low budget, you can be very creative, and that’s the idea.

TrunkSpace: And there’s so many sub-genres within the horror genre. As far as a creative palette, there’s so much to paint with.
Fessenden: Yeah, it’s fantastic. My own films are not very violent, but Mickey gets pretty nasty in his stuff, and both of those exist. Horror is also about dread, and some of the deeper horror of self betrayal, and all of that. Horror is also about being arbitrarily chosen to be serial killed. Both are the dark parts of the human condition, so it’s fun to explore them all. Also, the horror comedy that interests me is the one that’s really just about the absurdity of life, and kind of almost a satire aspect. So yeah, it’s a big tent.

TrunkSpace: You’ve become a horror icon to genre fans. Do you view yourself that way and was it an active role that you sought out, or did fate step in and put you on that path?
Fessenden: Well, it’s funny. Fate had a huge amount to do with it. I have mentored filmmakers, and I think that’s where it all came from. But I remember when this icon status started… I felt I was very young. I’d only made three or four horror movies, and they weren’t big successes. They were sort of singular. I will take that credit – they’re specific to me, and no one else would make a movie like “Wendigo.” (Laughter) But then as I started supporting Ti West, and Graham Reznick, and Jim Mickle, and a lot of strange films like “Automatons” by James McKenney… I don’t know how it happened. I don’t mind playing that role, but it is funny how you get these buzzwords associated with you.

TrunkSpace: Do you think part of it is having an eye and taste for the types of films that genre fans enjoy?
Fessenden: I think so. Although, I would argue that all of us in the Glass Eye orbit are a little bit pegged as a slow burn, which is sort of a way of saying, not entirely commercial. It’s not the actual jugular of horror. It’s that, maybe, we have consistently found good directors. I do think that’s the case. As I say, Ti, Mickle, and some of these guys have made many classics, and that cements the reputation. Also, we’ve been at it a long time. We consistently have something every couple of years, something that really does elevate the genre. We just put out a movie called “Most Beautiful Island” and that’s an unexpected horror. You won’t assume there would be horror in it, mind you, because it’s actually subtle. But it’s cool to assert that the genre can have artistry, and control over tone, and seriousness.

And then what’s funnest to do is a Mickey movie, because that speaks maybe more directly to certain genre fans, but not everybody. I don’t know. Look, I believe in making stuff that is unique to the directors. Mickey is making films that are very much personal to him.

Fessenden and Dominic Monaghan in “I Sell the Dead”

TrunkSpace: Has the various streaming platforms extended the shelf life of the films that you’re making and have they positively impacted the business side of what you do?
Fessenden: No. In fact, it’s frustrating, because you don’t actually see those numbers. In the old days, you’d sell your movie to a humble DVD company, and they’d give you some money for it. I made movies for 30 grand, and sold them for 60 grand. I think we have the illusion that streaming is sort of making movies accessible, but most movies can fall off the radar pretty fast and then they’re gone forever. There’s not even a video box lying in someone’s garage. So I don’t romanticize the streaming, quite honestly. Of course, it’s lovely to tell your kid, “Oh hey, let’s watch a movie tonight, and you just find one.” I don’t know, I don’t find the streaming particularly charming, to be honest.

TrunkSpace: With all of these various hats you wear on film sets, do you view them all as separate careers, or do they all fall under one bigger umbrella?
Fessenden: I appreciate the question. I mean, I have an approach to the arts… I play the saxophone pretty badly, but I always laugh that those solos have a certain vibe, not unlike my acting. Or the way I like to approach storytelling, and how I like to encourage other artists. I feel like it’s all coming from one voice. I really am master of none, no particular trade, but have my hands in all of them a little bit. So that’s all I can offer, is something unique to myself, and hope it sort of makes sense.

Psychopaths” is available on digital home entertainment January 2.

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Chilling Out

Lowell Dean

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Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re talking with Lowell Dean, the brainchild behind everyone’s favorite lycanthropic authority figure, WolfCop. The writer and director of the popular horror/comedy mashup recently premiered the latest film in the franchise, “Another WolfCop,” at select theaters and is currently preparing to launch the sequel wide on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital home entertainment in 2018.

We recently sat down with Dean to discuss why he creatively felt the need to howl at the werewolf moon, the importance in finding the right tone, and how he worked on improving upon the original film.

 

TrunkSpace: When you first set out to make the original “WolfCop,” what was the intention? Were you setting out to produce a film that would be a calling card for your career as a writer/director? Were you looking to create a film that you yourself would sit in the audience of? What was the personal aspect of your creative mission?
Dean: I created “WolfCop” because it was something I wanted to see, that was my only real agenda. It was something I didn’t feel existed in the market at that time and I knew that if audiences wanted to see it half as bad as I did, we had a shot at something good. When I first wrote it, the main werewolf presence in cinema was “Twilight,” and I really wanted to “take back” the wolf-man to the look of a man in a suit, practical effects type of film. I wanted to get away from the CGI animal on all fours look. Basically, I wanted a modern (but more drunk) version of “Teen Wolf” or the Universal “Wolf Man.”

TrunkSpace: Having a film connect with an audience can be a bit like catching lightening in a bottle. You can never tell what will resonate and what will not. With that being said, when you were making the first “WolfCop,” did it have the feeling of a film that would find an audience and ultimately, give birth to a sequel?
Dean: I had no idea. I certainly hoped it would resonate, but I was half expecting it to be ignored or hated outright because of the goofy title. I was worried people would think it was a serious film just done poorly, despite the title. That’s why I love the title and was adamant to use it – it lets audiences know right from the top what to expect and that it is okay to have fun with it.

TrunkSpace: When you’re finished with a film and releasing it to the world, what emotions do you wrestle with? Is it both exciting and terrifying at the same time?
Dean: It is like a breakup, in a way. You just have to let go. Up until that point if a film is done, you are in a battle to make it as good as possible, but once it is done and out in the world you just have to move on and try to find inspiration elsewhere. I was less worried about audience reaction with the sequel because we have a built in fanbase. I knew that fans of “WolfCop” would hopefully like it because we worked very hard to build on the experience of the first one and take things up a notch. That said, you never know for sure!

TrunkSpace: The horror/comedy mashup is a genre that can swing and miss badly when the tone is off even a little. How important was it to you to find (and strike) the balance between the two genres without going too far off in one direction?
Dean: Tone is everything. I think it is the most important part of a director’s job in the horror/comedy genre. It is a big challenge and to be honest, you just have to go with your gut most times and consider yourself the first audience member. I’ve been told often that the horror/comedy genre should be avoided but I can’t help it, I love the genre! When it is done right it is absolute bliss. I say this both as a filmmaker and an audience member.

TrunkSpace: Artists often have a damned-if-they-do/damned-if-they-don’t battle when it comes to following up a success. If you travel too far away from what made the first one so popular, you risk losing the fandom you built. If you remain too close to the original, you risk being called out for not growing and building on the original. As a filmmaker, is that something you thought about when putting together “Another WolfCop,” and if so, how did you tackle that creatively?
Dean: I had two big goals with the sequel. Number one was don’t just retell the first story, which I feel is a trap many sequels get into. I really wanted to do something new. My number 2 goal was to amp up the crazy and take the madness (practical effects, violence, comedy, action) to the next level. I honestly believe that within our parameters of budget and time, the whole team pushed really hard to make something both unique and twisted. It wasn’t easy!

Dean on set.

TrunkSpace: We read that you felt the makeup was “worlds above” the first film and that in terms of effects, the quantity greatly surpasses what you put in the original “WolfCop.” Did that place more pressure on you as a director from a technical standpoint?
Dean: I feel like every team member who carried over from the first film felt a huge desire to do better with the sequel. We saw it as an opportunity to improve upon our work. Emersen Ziffle, the makeup FX artist, was overjoyed he could redo the makeup with all he had learned in the interim. I was overjoyed to have a chance to make a crazier film with more action since, there wasn’t much in the first film. I felt a lot of pressure to make the sequel better, but most of it was self-imposed.

TrunkSpace: When you look back at both films, what are you most proud of?
Dean: If anything, “WolfCop” 1 and 2 are personal validation that there is an audience for my weird ideas. That’s my take away! “WolfCop” was my first film as a writer/director, and prior to that I wasn’t really sure audiences would connect with my sense of humor. I made a lot of short films prior, but people often told me that I was weird… or my films were weird… so I was nervous it would be hard to do something with mass appeal. Turns out there’s a lot of weird people out there!

TrunkSpace: It seems that anything horror related tends to have a longer shelf life than most other films. It also seems like most fans of horror as a genre are more willing to try something new than perhaps a general mass market moviegoer. As someone who has worked within the genre, do you find that to be the case?
Dean: All I know is genre fans, horror fans specifically, are rabid and inclusive. They are a wonderful bunch. At every convention or screening I attend, horror movie fans are some of the sweetest, most passionate people you could hope to meet. It is part of the reason I wanted to get into genre filmmaking in the first place. I mean, tell me the last time you went to a romantic comedy convention!

TrunkSpace: The “WolfCop” franchise has such a specific tone and artistic point of view. Tonally, is this a sandbox that you see yourself continuing to play in as a filmmaker, or do you envision a creative departure in the future?
Dean: I love the sandbox of horror/comedy and the tone we strike in the “WolfCop” films. That said, I don’t want to only make “WolfCop” films. I want to try a bit of everything. That is the joy of being a writer and director, you get to try new things. I want to make dramas, action films, comedies, thrillers… I want to do it all!

TrunkSpace: Speaking of future, what’s next for you? What can fans of your work look for in 2018 and beyond?
Dean: I’m currently in post production on “SuperGrid,” a post apocalypse action film about two brothers on a dangerous cargo run. Hopefully it will be out by next summer. Beyond that, I’m just writing new scripts and looking for new directing jobs!

Another WolfCop” roars onto Blu-ray, DVD, and digital home entertainment in 2018.

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Wingman Wednesday

Jared Rivet

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Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work on the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re talking with writer Jared Rivet about his latest film, the thriller “Jackals” starring Deborah Kara Unger, Stephen Dorff, and Jonathon Schaech.

We sat down with Rivet to discuss the 10-year process of getting the film made, his most surreal moment during production, and what it’s like to host a Dead Right Horror Trivia Night.

TrunkSpace: We read that “Jackals” was 10 years in the making for you. How did those 10 years ultimately become a reality? What events occurred that brought it from feature script to produced film?
Rivet: I wrote the script in late 2006 and my reps started shopping it around in 2007. Between 2006 and 2015, a lot of people wanted to make it, starting with Tobe Hooper. With Tobe onboard, we almost got the movie made three different times. But, as is usually the case in Hollywood, something just kept stopping it from happening. Tobe moved onto other projects eventually and then the script kept finding new directors, some really great people, up to and including Darren Bousman, and that iteration came very close to happening as well (it got announced all over the place). But Darren was also trying to get “Abattoir” made and that was his passion project. Right after he got that going a producer got involved with “Jackals” who had access to funding and we had to move forward without Darren.

Kevin Greutert had been eager to do the movie for a couple of years (the script really did have a life of its own and had gotten around). He was someone I was very eager to work with and at the time and I knew what his take on the movie was. I was also working with Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan on another project (still unproduced) and they adored Kevin. So when my producer, Tommy Alastra, asked me who we should be looking at to direct, I nominated Kevin.

TrunkSpace: At any point during those 10 years did you consider shelving “Jackals” and walking away from it?
Rivet: The straight answer is: no. The script had been so well received and had gotten so many interesting/cool people excited over the years, it always felt like something that was going to get made someday. A lot of screenwriters I know always talk about the scripts that never seem to die, they get contacted a couple times a year by producers/directors/executives asking about it. “Jackals” was one of those.

The complicated answer is: the only times I thought about shelving it were when something similar would come out. So I wrote the script in 2006, which means “Ils” had not come out (here in the States), “The Strangers” had not come out, “You’re Next” had not come out. And movies about satanic cults had pretty much died out at that point. So I had to really decide when similar projects started coming out and doing a great job with the same kind of material whether or not I should just walk away from it.

Not only did I feel like “Jackals” was different enough in terms of set up and overall tone from the home invasion movies that came out after I wrote the script (and the shockingly huge number of movies incorporating cults into their plotlines over the last eight or nine years), but as I said earlier, the script had taken on a life of its own. It had become one of my calling cards and someone was going to make it, whether I felt like it should be scrapped or not.

In other words, despite some moments of doubt and frustration at seeing similar movies come out and do well, no, I never felt like I should shelve it.

TrunkSpace: Not only has “Jackals” been made into a film, but it was made into a film starring some really great actors. Did you ever anticipate that you’d be promoting your film alongside of people like Johnathon Schaech, Deborah Kara Unger and Stephen Dorff?
Rivet: Honestly, no. I’m a very unpretentious guy, it’s rare that I assume any big names will ever be involved with something I wrote. At the stage I’m at, I would have been completely satisfied with all unknowns. But then they tell you Deborah Kara Unger is going to play the mom and Johnathon Schaech is going to play the dad, you start frantically re-reading the script, paranoid that their dialogue isn’t good enough or that their characters should be more fleshed out. And then you met them and they tell you how much they love the script and their characters particularly and you breathe a sigh of relief.

I look at the cast and I just see flashes of all of these movies they’ve been in. During production, I got to ask Deborah what it was like working with Cronenberg on “Crash.” I had a lot of conversations with Johnathon (who is also a successful horror screenwriter) about the time he was working with Tobe Hooper on one project while I was working with him on “White Zombie.” And I finally got up the courage to ask Stephen Dorff about “The Gate,” which was probably the geekiest thing I did on this whole project.

TrunkSpace: What has been the most surreal experience for you thus far on your “Jackals” journey?
Rivet: There have been a lot of surreal experiences! If anything, it’s gotten more and more surreal as the movie has been released. But I think the most surreal moment for me was probably during filming. There’s a scene in the movie that has stayed in the script virtually unchanged since the beginning. It’s the scene early in the movie where Justin (Ben Sullivan) wakes up tied to a chair and first realizes what’s going on.

Like I said, that scene really hadn’t changed very much in 10 years and it is one of the few (perhaps only) scenes in the movie where the entire cast is all together in one room (the baby is even there). It’s a very intense, dramatic scene and everyone has something to do. They shot it in the last week of filming to accommodate Stephen Dorff’s schedule (he only worked on the movie for five days) so I had already gotten used to seeing everyone else in character, acting out scenes I had written, but now we had Stephen playing Jimmy in this pivotal scene that I felt like I had seen so many times in my head. And like I said, it’s possibly the only time the entire cast is all together in one room.

I had to hold in how emotional it made me to see it unfold before my eyes, with everyone just hitting it out of the park. And when it was over, Kevin turned to me and he could see that I had this weird smile on my face and he asked me how I was doing. I got choked up and said, “I’ve been waiting 10 years to see that scene.”

TrunkSpace: Since “Jackals” was ultimately greenlit, has it had a direct impact on your career and getting other projects made? Will having a film produced cut down on future 10-year endeavors?
Rivet: Ironically enough, no. I feel like the whole time the movie was moving forward, from getting the greenlight to pre-production to filming to post production and then finally having it sell to Scream Factory, might have been the quietest, slowest period of my entire career. Things were starting to look grim. There was a good year and a half of wondering when (or if!) the movie was going to come out once it was finished and I don’t know why but things grew very cold career-wise in the interim.

Since the trailers came out and now with the release of the film, things have definitely changed. Although, heartbreakingly, one of the projects that started to regain momentum in August was “White Zombie” for Tobe to finally direct. When he passed away, the project died with him.

And to answer your second question, a script I just optioned in August was something I had written five years ago. So maybe having a movie produced has cut the duration of my 10-year endeavors in half?

TrunkSpace: A lot of times writers and filmmakers venture into the horror genre and then get pigeonholed there. However, you seem to have a genuine love for all things that go bump in the cinematic night. Is horror ultimately where you want to be creating?
Rivet: Absolutely. I’m a hardcore horror guy through and through. I love the genre and I have no plans to leave it. I think my goal, however, is to always try and appeal to a wider audience. It’s a bigger challenge. To hopefully satisfy the horror crowd while simultaneously making something that the average moviegoer can also appreciate.

TrunkSpace: You also co-host the Dead Right Horror Trivia Night. For those who don’t know what that is, can you fill us in?
Rivet: Dead Right Horror Trivia is a monthly event that was originally created in 2013 by Ryan Turek and Rebekah McKendry at Elric Kane’s Jumpcut Café in Studio City, California. It is basically pub trivia, but only questions about horror. I originally played on a team (our name was “Zombie Redneck Torture Family”) and we won a lot. Too much. Everyone hated us.

And then two things happened: in 2015 the Jumpcut Café closed down and Ryan Turek got a sweet gig as the director of development at Blumhouse Productions. At that point, I stopped playing and became a regular co-host with Rebekah McKendry and we found a new place to operate out of, a really cool toys and collectibles store in Burbank called Blast from the Past. So we’ve been there every month for two years now and I think I am the only person who has been to every single game.

TrunkSpace: Fans of horror are passionate about the genre. Do they come to throw down some serious knowledge at Dead Right Horror Trivia Night? Is it difficult to stump the crowds who show up?
Rivet: Yes. It’s tough because you have to find a balance with the questions. We host a good 120 or 130 people every month (in teams of 4 to 6) and they’re all hardcore horror fans, but not everybody is a superhuman horror Brainiac. So the trick is to go kind of “intermediate-to-expert” in terms of the questions. You don’t want everyone scratching their heads with their jaws on the floor over how hard the question is, but you also can’t just ask them how many “Halloween” movies there are. It’s about finding a balance, throwing in some gimmes and making it tough for the folks who really know their shit.

TrunkSpace: What is the craziest, zaniest, downright spookiest thing to ever go down at a Dead Right Horror Trivia Night?
Rivet: That’s a toughie – the nights themselves are usually fun and social, friends catching up, people networking, debating the merits of recent releases. For the kind of material we cover, the events themselves are pretty bright, raucous occasions.

I guess the coolest things have been some of the guest presenters, we’ve had folks come in to do guest rounds like Stuart Gordon, Jeff Lieberman, Tom Holland, Patrick Melton, Tom Holland, Darin Scott, and Simon Barrett. That’s always a thrill, and they’re usually doing trivia questions about their own work which is a lot of fun.

Other than that, we have a lot of great horror filmmakers that come to play every month and every now and then you find yourself accidentally asking a trivia question about a film someone in the audience actually wrote or directed or starred in or wrote a book about…

TrunkSpace: In addition to writing and hosting, you’ve been performing regularly with Earbud Theater, writing, directing, and acting in a number of “scary radio shows” that air on the net. You’re starring in a new series due up later this month. What can you tell us about it?
Rivet: I love doing those. They give me a creative satisfaction that I haven’t found in anything else. I’ve written and directed (and acted in) four episodes and then the Earbud Theater people occasionally ask me to come and do voice work on other people’s productions. I genuinely wish there was a way to make a living doing these things because there is something so cool about scaring people with sound. You have to use an entirely different part of your brain to write that way, I like to say that you’re writing a screenplay with no screen. Everything has to be conveyed entirely through sound.

I was honored that Casey Wolfe asked me to play one of the two leads in the upcoming serial “After The Haunting.” It’s their first “serialized” podplay, very ambitious, it will be released in five parts. I play a college student who returns to his hometown only to discover that a horrific supernatural incident has taken place in his absence. He and his best friend decide to investigate and this leads to some very creepy, horrible, violent events. I keep telling people it’s kind of like what happened to the other people living in Cuesta Verde the day after the Freelings drove away from their imploding house.

TrunkSpace: What is it about a radio show and using audio-only elements that lends to the horror genre? What can be achieved in that space that perhaps is out of reach in film and other visual mediums?
Rivet: I think it’s more interactive in a way. You are forcing people to create images in their heads with dialogue, music and sound effects. And I think I can freak people out with greater efficiency by making them create pictures in their heads. My last, most recent episode (“Trails”) has some stuff in it that I think would ONLY work as an audio drama. If it were literalized with visuals, I don’t know that the big moments in that episode would work.

In fact, that’s usually my first criteria when I’m developing an idea for one: is this something that would be better suited for a visual medium? Because if it is, I will probably be inclined to put it in the future visual-screenplay pile.

It gives me an outlet to be experimental and take risks and play and try things I would never be allowed to do by a studio. And simultaneously, I get to work with really cool actors and an amazing sound designer (Craig Good) who help me bring scary stories to life. And then it goes out into the world and people get to hear it and hopefully get the shit scared out of them.

TrunkSpace: October is just around the corner, which means, Halloween is almost here. As a horror buff, are you big on all things October 31? Do you go crazy big on the costume front?
Rivet: I’m less of a costume guy and more of a decorations and events guy. I dress up for horror trivia (last year I was Beetlejuice) but I think I’m always daunted by the fact that I’m blind without my glasses. So anything I do has to somehow incorporate eyewear, which really limits your options.

But to answer your overall question: I love Halloween. I love the pumpkin flavored everything, I love that people are gobbling up horror movies and looking for movie suggestions. But my favorite thing in recent years has to be the all-night horrorthon at the New Beverly Cinema, the revival theater owned by Quentin Tarantino. Brian Quinn and Phil Blankenship put together these secret marathons every October and they don’t tell anyone what the titles are going to be. You’re at their mercy. And these things sell out in a matter of seconds. No one knows what they’re going to be seeing and getting tickets is like trying to get a Mondo poster. It’s amazing. And honestly, these things have been the best movie-going experiences of my life.

So between that and all of the other screenings you can go to in L.A. and Halloween Horror Nights and escape rooms…the sheer amount of Halloween themed activities in this city is insane. You could do something new and horrific every night in October and never repeat yourself.

TrunkSpace: Can you give us a little taste of what’s to come for your writing career? What are you working on that you can discuss?
Rivet: As I mentioned earlier, I just optioned something that I wrote five years ago that I am extremely excited about. I don’t know how much I can say about it at this point but it is absolutely nothing like “Jackals” and is something more in the vein of 80’s/90’s horror franchises, like “Nightmare on Elm Street” or the “Child’s Play” movies. It’s been a long time since we’ve had anything like that and I think someone needs to change that.

And I am currently shopping around a new feature script that is based on one of my Earbud Theater episodes. I know, after all of my proselytizing about how the Earbud stuff wouldn’t work in a visual medium, I am totally contradicting myself. I can’t say which one it is, but it’s an episode that had a lot of people telling me would work as a feature, so I thought about it, figured out how to do it, wrote it and now we wait and see if folks are interested in making it. And even with “Jackals” out in the world, this is still a nerve wracking, maybe/maybe-not situation that can make the most seasoned veterans go out of their minds.

Other than that, I have a horror TV series project that I am currently pitching. It’s a paranormal concept that I have been working on for a really long time. But if “Jackals” is any indication, sometimes it’s the ones that you don’t give up on that have a habit of getting made.

“Jackals” is available now on VOD and arrives on Blu-ray October 3.

You can listen to Earbud Theater productions here.

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Chilling Out

Kevin Greutert

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Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re talking with director Kevin Greutert about his latest film, the thriller “Jackals” starring Deborah Kara Unger, Stephen Dorff, and Jonathon Schaech.

We sat down with Greutert to discuss the process of working on a large moneymaking franchise like “Saw,” how he was the only creative person to contribute to all eight films, and why he always edits the projects he directs.

TrunkSpace: You have worked on big franchises and with original content that no one has ever been exposed to before. Does each offer a different kind of excitement throughout the production process and prior to an audience seeing them?
Greutert: The movie series I’m most closely associated with is “Saw” and during the main run we were blessed with a large and ardent fan following, people who closely followed the complex storyline and did their best to make predictions about upcoming sequels. Naturally those of us on the inside tried to anticipate and satisfy these expectations, though this wasn’t always a smooth process because producers, actors, directors and writers often have very different views of the best way forward with a story. So the creative team (writers and directors) often had to struggle for a long time to convince the producers and studio that our way forward was the best. And naturally each director had different opinions from the others about what to do as the series developed. The directors had a lot more power over these kinds of decisions in the early years, and by the time we got to the seventh, well… things got pretty tough for me. I didn’t think I’d ever see another “Saw” set after leaving Toronto in 2010, but they managed to figure out a way to get me to return to at least the editing room for the latest, “Jigsaw,” so I guess miracles can happen. I think there’s some audience excitement to see this new installment, but not nearly on the level of the previous films, though this is difficult to gauge since the cruel removal of the message boards from IMDb, as well as the erasure of House Of Jigsaw, the main “Saw” series forum.

TrunkSpace: In addition to that, does each have a different set of storytelling hurdles? For instance, with a long-running franchise like “Saw,” does continuity become a focus?
Greutert: I did everything in my power to make sure the “Saw” films made consistent sense from one to the next, and even used “Saw VI” to clean up some messy business from the earlier installments, such as the notorious letter that Amanda reads in “Saw III,” that was shot for the sake of creating intrigue without any plan for where it would go. All franchise film and TV series creators have the same kinds of hurdles, and sometimes you have to let some errors go and just hope that nobody notices. It also makes sense to maintain the cinematic style set early on, despite an individual director’s desire to set his or her own mark on a project. You have to find ways to do that while staying true to what has come before you.

TrunkSpace: You are wearing multiple hats on your new film “Jackals,” tackling both directing and editing. Does editing a project that you also directed help to further cement your cinematic vision on any given project? Are you giving away control on a project when someone else is serving as editor?
Greutert: I have edited or co-edited all of my films. I would lose my mind if I didn’t have the opportunity to go through all the footage and feel my way through the scenes. It is absolutely essential to me – if I don’t look under every stone, I’ll feel I did a disservice to my project. I wish I could be less of a control freak about this, but I can’t.

TrunkSpace: “Jackals” has been circulating throughout festivals before officially releasing on September 1. Have you been able to sit in on any of the screenings and what is it like absorbing an audience’s reaction in real time?
Greutert: I’ve been working on a film in China since June, so unfortunately I have not been in any audience screenings. Even while I was editing the film, we only had one test screening and I was out of the country at the time. It’s sad to never see your film with an audience, but that was my unfortunate reality with this project.

TrunkSpace: One of the things we always hear is how some of the best moments in horror cinema came about through happy accidents or because there was a need, either due to financial means or creative failures, to adjust on the fly. Were there any moments like that in the filming of “Jackals” where you had to alter the game plan, but actually preferred the outcome?
Greutert: Well… not really. This film was shot in 15 days on a budget of under a million dollars. That is already such a severe constraint that it’s hard to think of any further restrictions that might have yielded a happy outcome. I had a lot of creative ideas I would have liked to have pursued with the script and storytelling, but was blocked from these for political reasons rather than physical ones. That said, we did make a lot of adjustments to the dialogue on the fly, but that’s pretty standard for me.

TrunkSpace: You’ve been involved with the “Saw” franchise in various capacities since it kicked off in 2004. You’re back as editor for the upcoming “Jigsaw.” What is it like from the inside seeing a franchise grow and evolve over such a long period of time, particularly from the mindset of an editor who has probably seen more of the footage than anyone else ever will?
Greutert: It was pretty exciting, I have to tell you. From the first day of footage on “Saw” 1, which happened to be the opening of the movie, it felt like we had something special on our hands. Even so, I never dreamed it would be such a success, though I joked about it a lot with the writer and director. I was the only member of the creative team to work on all eight films, and for this reason I felt like I always wanted to have some involvement, if for no other reason than to try to be a kind of gatekeeper for the through lines. I’m pretty sure I have more close knowledge of all the details of the story and characters than anything else, so the series is like an unruly child to me, a child that has the potential to turn out very, very wrong if you don’t give it lots of guidance. That said, the only installment where I had much true creative control was “Saw VI.”

TrunkSpace: When you were cutting together that first film, did you have any idea that you’d be here today nearly 15 years later, still talking about it?
Greutert: No. Not even close. That franchise made my career as both editor and director. I truly don’t think I’d be working in film anymore if I hadn’t gotten that lucky break back in 2003.

TrunkSpace: Your career has spanned a wide variety of genres, but in recent years you have spent most of your time in the horror/thriller world. Is that by design? Do those particular projects have a greater pull on you than other genres?
Greutert: Getting the “Saw” editor gig was a freak accident. I’ve always loved the great horror films of the past, but didn’t have deep knowledge of the genre as a whole, though my artistic tastes in general run very dark. I’ve tried hard to get films off the ground in other genres, but I’ve been pretty severely pigeonholed as a Horror Guy. That’s why I’m so excited to be doing a science fiction film here in Beijing.

TrunkSpace: Horror continues to be a popular genre in film, and while a handful of horror series have succeeded on television, most fail or never get produced. Why does horror have such a hard time finding its niche in the world of TV?
Greutert: I’ve never worked in television, so I don’t have strong opinions about that. So much of horror is about pushing the audience to imagine the worst in order to create a sense of dread. Sooner or later this anticipation has to pay off. Suspending it for even ten consecutive minutes in a feature film is insanely difficult, however, so how you might prolong this over whole seasons of television is a daunting thought for me.

TrunkSpace: As you look back over your career, what project do you feel you learned the most on in terms of how a production works and how to keep things running smoothly?
Greutert: Prior to directing “Saw VI,” I had spent almost no time on any film sets. So it was a real trial by fire, and I had to learn a huge amount about the process of guiding a film both creatively and physically. Fortunately I had a great assistant director, production designer, and line producer to help me out. With each film I learn a huge amount more. Every project is different, and you learn to anticipate what aspects are going to be most challenging. Now that I’m working in a country where the methods are radically different, I’m much more conscious of what I have learned, and how it can be applied in new situations.

TrunkSpace: Do you feel like you’re still learning “on the job” due to every production having its own set of needs and unexpected difficulties?
Greutert: I’ll never know half of what I feel I need to be a great film maker! It’s one of the hardest undertakings you can embark on, making a film, and there are so very few people who have really mastered it. I’m just grateful I’ve been able to have my shots at it.

TrunkSpace: When you look at your career moving forward, what would you like to accomplish? Do you have bucket list items that you want to check off in your career?
Greutert: I’ve got several projects I’d still like to make, most of them outside the horror genre. One is a historical sea adventure, one is a comedy about a Russian spy in the 1950s, and in general I’d like to do as much science fiction as possible – that’s my favorite genre.

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Chilling Out

Russell Geoffrey Banks

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Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re talking with Russell Geoffrey Banks whose latest film “Who’s Watching Oliver” continues to create waves amongst horror fans, due in large part to his gripping performance as the mentally unstable Oliver.

We sat down with Geoffrey Banks to discuss the dark places that he had to go to, how he is surprised by the positive reception that the film has received, and why he isn’t worried about getting pigeonholed in the horror genre.

TrunkSpace: Does playing a character like Oliver force you to go to a dark place in your mind at times, and on those particular dark days, is it hard to leave that emotional heaviness on set?
Geoffrey Banks: Yeah. Definitely. Oliver was definitely a dark one for me. I’ve done a few other characters, like in the first film I did called “Goodnight, Glory.” That one had, again, kind of a dark character. And then “Cam2Cam” was about a serial killer.

I guess different actors do it different ways, but for me, you’re trying to put yourself in the worst possible place ever in those moments. And then afterward… for sure, it took a little bit of time to get my head right.

TrunkSpace: It also seemed like you had to strike a balance between the very dark side of Oliver and then the side with the childlike vulnerability that was attached to him?
Geoffrey Banks: Definitely. And I’ll tell you, when we were shooting it… the first part we shot was without Sara (Malakul Lane) and then she came in near the end of the film. And when she came in it was a real nice break because we had been doing all of the dark stuff up until that point and to be honest, I needed that time to do the nice stuff just to get my head right because it felt like we were just forever in a room killing people and doing dark stuff. Without a doubt, it definitely helped to have her come at that time to get my head right.

TrunkSpace: Strictly from a performance standpoint, what was the most difficult scene you had to shoot?
Geoffrey Banks: I’d say the rape. For sure. Kelly Woodcock… I had already known her for a really long time before, but that was without a doubt such a hard day. And surprisingly enough, it was one when it kind of hit me at that moment as being hard. Before that, I was just like, “Oh, it’s acting. This is going to be fine.” And then when we started shooting, it was like, “Jesus… fuck this is quite intense.” That was a hard day. I’d say, without a doubt, the rape scene with Kelly was probably about the hardest day to shoot.

You’re doing it and you’re in this character and you’re playing it and then you’re going ahead and you’re doing it, and then all of a sudden your brain is telling you, “Jesus, what the fuck am I doing?” That was the first rape scene I had ever done and it was definitely the hardest.

TrunkSpace: When you have to go to those dark places in a film, do you question the commitment and having to go there knowing that the film is an independent production and has the possibility of never being seen by an audience?
Geoffrey Banks: No. To be honest, that didn’t cross my mind. I had no idea if it would do well or not, but at the time… I don’t know, you just get into the character and you’re just going on emotions more than anything, I guess. I wouldn’t say that the whole independent film thing was a factor in my mind at all in those periods. I think if it had been a massive film, I would have felt exactly the same way. We know what’s right and what’s wrong in life.

But that was one of the main things, which I could always tell myself was… Oliver is very much a victim and he’s being forced to do that. His mother is forcing him to do that and that was the logic that I could put myself in. This is a guy who had a lot of mental abuse and physical abuse over the years and he’s being forced to do it.

It comes to mind with an old film called “Bad Boy Bubby.” That’s a similar type of thing. He’s a guy who’s very mentally unstable and put into a situation where he doesn’t feel like he’s got control. So I think you just suck up and go there.

TrunkSpace: We read one review of the film where the reviewer said something along the lines of it being difficult to believe that you were not that “mentally unhinged” character in real life. Do you take that as a compliment for your acting abilities and at the same time, as something that kind of gives you pause?
Geoffrey Banks: Well, nobody knows me, but if this does well, then everybody’s going to find out about all of the real bad stuff I did.

I’m joking. That was a terrible joke. (Laughter)

Russell Geoffrey Banks in “Who’s Watching Oliver”

TrunkSpace: (Laughter) It does seem like the film is getting a great reception, particularly from fans of the horror genre.
Geoffrey Banks: We’ve been blessed. I’ve been really surprised with the reviews. It’s a little film and when you’re filming it you don’t expect it. To be honest, I was more worried that everybody would… because you go into character, you do this stuff, and you make it as real as you can. It messes you up a little bit in your head when you do that stuff, but then you have no idea how it will do. I was worried. “Oh my God. They’re going to hate me and think that I’m this serial killer rapist.” So, seeing the reviews, I’ve just been blown away. I couldn’t believe it. If you had told me that when we were filming, I would have said no way.

TrunkSpace: And you have won a number of awards for your performance as Oliver.
Geoffrey Banks: Yeah. Again, I couldn’t believe it. And it’s been really nice with Margaret (Roche) as well. It’s funny… if you ever met the mother, you would never believe it’s the same woman. (Laughter) People say that about me being different, but if they met her… she’s this little religious old woman. They would never believe it. Jesus, you wouldn’t believe it’s the same person.

So when she got an award, that meant a lot as well.

TrunkSpace: Just about an hour before we chatted we took a look at one of the YouTube channels that has posted the trailer of the film and it was up to over 400,00 views. When will those 400,000 people be able to see the film outside of the festival circuit?
Geoffrey Banks: To be honest, I’m not sure. I’ve got my fingers crossed and I’m hoping that it gets sorted and everything, but it’s film. We’re in those days when it’s harder. It’s not easy to sell films and it’s not easy to get people to watch your films. Again, that’s why it means so much that we’ve been getting these reviews because it has been unexpected.

Hopefully it releases soon.

TrunkSpace: If the film goes wide and becomes a cult horror hit, which seems possible based on the feedback so far, would you be comfortable being labeled in that cult horror genre knowing that it could pigeonholed you as an actor?
Geoffrey Banks: I’m going to give you the real response and not the one that is made up and what I should give you.

Dude, I’ve done a million jobs. I’ve worked minimum wage. I’ve done every single thing in the world. I’ve grown up on horror films. I’ve grown up watching a million films. If somebody ever told me that I could be an actor and pay my bills, I wouldn’t care.

Fuck, if something does well, that’s amazing. That’s what you want. That’s what we’re after. And with being pigeonholed… the fact is, if something does well it does well. I could work my whole life and do a million films and nobody could ever watch them… because that’s where we’re going. We’re going into that thing where films don’t make money. It’s getting harder. Just to get some attention… and this is why the awards and everything means a lot.

I’d like to play it cool and I’d like to give it the James Dean approach, but no… it means the world if people write nice stuff about you. It’s the same with any actor. Everyone will lie and try to play it cool, but we’re all liars. We love it. (Laughter)

Read our exclusive interview with Russell Geoffrey Banks’ “Who’s Watching Oliver” costar Sara Malakul Lane here.

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Chilling Out

Sara Malakul Lane

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Photo By: Matthew Comer

Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re talking with Sara Malakul Lane whose latest film “Who’s Watching Oliver” is scaring the pants off of festival goers all around the world.

We sat down with Malakul Lane to discuss the emotional heaviness of the film, her costar’s performance, and how the Kickboxer franchise has impacted both her career and personal life.

TrunkSpace: How did you become involved in “Who’s Watching Oliver?”
Malakul Lane: I had worked with Russell Geoffrey Banks on a movie at the end of 2015 and he mentioned that he had a script and asked if I was interested. Russell is one of the best actors I have ever worked with. I learned so much from him and was so inspired, so I jumped at the opportunity to work with him again, especially on a script that he co-wrote.

TrunkSpace: The film is a dark ride with lots of deeply wounded and complicated characters. From an acting standpoint, did you worry about delving into that world and having some of that emotional heaviness stay with you?
Malakul Lane: I was actually feeling very emotionally fragile (due to some personal issues) while we were filming the movie so it was kind of cathartic in way to have to go to those places every day and immerse myself in such dark, heavy material.

TrunkSpace: What was the most difficult scene you had to shoot in terms of where you had to go emotionally?
Malakul Lane: I am good friends with Russell so we felt at ease with each other, so even though he was in character a lot of the time, I didn’t feel threatened in any way and the vibe on set was fun and lighthearted despite the kind of movie we were making.

TrunkSpace: A lot of times independent films can be shot, but then linger in post-production and then possibly never see the light of day. Is that something you think about when signing on to star in a film like “Who’s Watching Oliver” where the content itself is heavy and could be difficult on you emotionally as well as physically?
Malakul Lane: I respond to the creative side of things and don’t really worry about the business aspect. If I love the script and the people involved and it works with my schedule then I usually don’t go into the details of when/how its getting released. It’s not my problem. I don’t really have any aspirations to be a producer so once my job is done I let it go and hope for the best, hope that people see the movie and respond to it in kind.

I think part of the job of an actor is to take on the emotional baggage, to go to those dark places and feel icky, and I personally enjoy it and find it healing. It’s not that fun during the process, but I always learn from it, and since I have been doing it awhile, I have ways to cope when things get too heavy.

TrunkSpace: The film has been getting rave reviews and winning a number of awards as it circulates throughout festivals around the world. Is it surprising to see how well of a reception it has received thus far?
Malakul Lane: I am always happy and surprised because you just never know how people will respond. There’s been times when I am on a set and everyone is convinced we have a hit and when the movie comes out no one watches it, so I have learned to have low expectations. With Oliver, I did have a good feeling because Russell’s performance was just so magical and the script was really raw and original.

TrunkSpace: Is accepting roles a risk/reward scenario? In that we mean, does an actor/actress need to take risks in the roles that they take on in order to propel their career forward?
Malakul Lane: Like I mentioned earlier, I never think in terms of “propelling my career forward.” I read a script and I research the people involved and I always make the decision with my heart and not my head. Maybe I would have a different career if I used my head and strategized more, but that is just not my philosophy. Life is short. I have to know that I am going to have a good experience on a film. I have to have some sort of visceral response to the material otherwise in my mind there is no point. There always has to be a strong, heartfelt “WHY” behind each decision I am making.

TrunkSpace: With that in mind, what is the biggest risk you’ve ever taken in your career?
Malakul Lane: I’ve definitely taken a lot of risks, in life and in my career choices. If I wasn’t a little risky there is no way I would have left Thailand and moved to LA… I would still be doing Thai soaps, which isn’t a bad choice but it wasn’t the life for me. I think comfort is the enemy to growth so when things feel little too comfy I tend to shake it up because I always want to be growing, as a person and as an artist. In terms of risky movie choices, “Jailbait” was definitely one, but it was a great experience and I learned a lot from it… but there were definitely times during the shoot that I felt extremely uncomfortable and I whispered “whatthefuckamIdoing” to myself.

TrunkSpace: You’ll soon be returning to the Kickboxer franchise in “Kickboxer: Retaliation.” What can you tell us about where Liu will be going in terms of her story and arc?
Malakul Lane: I am really looking forward to “Kickboxer: Retaliation” coming out. The cast was so phenomenal, and some of the actions sequences are just mind blowing. My character Liu is now married to Kurt Sloane. She has an unfortunate run in with “The Mountain” and without revealing too much, gives Kurt Sloane a reason to kick some serious ass.

TrunkSpace: Kickboxer is an iconic action franchise. Is there another iconic franchise, from any genre, that you’d like to be a part of?
Malakul Lane: I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of the Kickboxer franchise. It’s been a wild ride and everyone involved has become family. There’s so many great franchises out there, I don’t have a particular one that I would want to be a part of, I just take the opportunities as they come.

TrunkSpace: Throughout the course of your career, what project had the biggest impact on you from an acting perspective and what project had the biggest impact on you in terms of your personal life?
Malakul Lane: Definitely the Kickboxer franchise has had the biggest impact both personally and professionally. It expanded my fanbase because its such an iconic brand and to be able to work side by side with incredible athletes such as GSP, Mike Tyson and Alain Moussi was inspiring and life changing. And both movies were filmed in my home town of Bangkok so it has been nice to come home every year, hang out with my family and make a cool movie. I hear rumblings of a third one happening soon…

TrunkSpace: When you look at your career moving forward, what would you like to accomplish? Do you have bucket list items that you want to check off in your career?
Malakul Lane: I don’t like to separate my career and my life. I have life goals/bucket lists as opposed to just career ones. I want to finish my degree in psychology, learn a new language, travel the world and make a few more cool action movies.

Malakul Lane in “Who’s Watching Oliver”
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Chilling Out

Tracey Birdsall

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Chilling Out is where TrunkSpace talks all things horror and genre with those who work in the projects that give us the thrills and chills to keep coming back for more. This time out we’re talking with Tracey Birdsall whose latest film “Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter” is taking the science fiction world by post apocalyptic storm.

We sat down with Birdsall to talk about the art of problem solving, pouring ice into her costume, and how the science fiction genre is one that is extremely near and dear to her heart.

TrunkSpace: You didn’t just star in “Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter,” you also produced it. We’re curious if you enjoy the process of wearing multiple hats on a single project?
Birdsall: Well, you know, I was one of two producers and I can’t do both and be the only producer because as soon as I get on set, I have to be able to kind of switch my brain off and just be the talent because there’s so much that is involved in that. But I love putting a project together and I love seeing it come to fruition. I kind of like all of the problems and missteps along the way too. (Laughter) So, basically yes, I love also being a producer, but I do have to put that hat down when we’re shooting.

TrunkSpace: You mentioned loving the problem solving aspect of producing. We would imagine that shooting this film in the desert and working opposite so many special effects forced you to have to work a lot of things through that you didn’t anticipate. Lots of zigging when you expected to zag.
Birdsall: Exactly, but that’s one of the fun things about science fiction. Director Neil Johnson really likes to make things as practical as possible. He did a couple of films that were mostly green screens many years ago and so he really tries to do as much “real” as he can. Any time that you’re doing something real, you’re going out and you’re shooting and you have your days, but as you said, the weather and the elements… and even what you’re dealing with… that sand is really deep when you’re shooting in those sand dunes. And then you get wind storms. And then you get heat waves out in the middle of the desert that you weren’t planning on so you have to go get bags of ice and shove it in your costuming. (Laughter) Because you have to do the shot.

But it’s amazing… some of the things that happened. We’re shooting “The Time War” now and we were shooting out in England for awhile, but the costuming was determined in California. So, those are the things that you run into along the way and it’s just that when that camera rolls, you just have to not think about anything except for who you are.

TrunkSpace: That’s so true… where a costume is designed is not necessarily going to fall in line with where it is worn.
Birdsall: Exactly. There’s a lot of too hot and too cold going on in any science fiction film when you’re out in the elements.

TrunkSpace: “Rogue Warrior” is a film that has taken a lot of people, especially fans of the genre, by surprise. Why do you think that is?
Birdsall: Because when you go in to see “Rogue Warrior” it… even the rest of the cast was kind of dumbfounded when they went to the premiere… because with the film you’re expecting great effects and you’re expecting a great storyline but what you’re not expecting is the huge character journey. There’s a lot of drama in “Rogue Warrior” that I think didn’t really occur to people to expect in a science fiction film.

TrunkSpace: Which is often an element that is left out of science fiction films… that fulfilling character arc.
Birdsall: It really is. And as an actress, I like to really delve into characters. Some scenes that were written on the page, they didn’t have as much of a journey, but as they came out… it was funny, there would be scenes where she was supposed to be brought to tears and stuff like that, but we had already done that in other scenes and not expected it. So, it’s just one of those things where the journey kind of took on a life of its own. And then so much of the film was shot in post production. Neil would be like, “This needs to be more epic and now we need to tie this in.” So we probably shot 80 days all together on it.

TrunkSpace: Wow! So, hearing what you put into the film, was it something that you envisioned to be a franchise out of the gates or was it meant to be just a standalone movie?
Birdsall: It was actually just going to be one of Neil’s quick, knock ‘em out the door films. (Laughter) It was just going to be a small film. And then, we’re both workaholics, so we both just really focused on making it better and better and better. I’ve spent hundreds of hours on my character and then the casting all had to be perfect. We probably interviewed 3,000 people before we hired Tony Gibbons on as the voice of the robot, Hoagland, because it’s such an integral part of the movie.

I guess we just don’t know how to do it small when we’re working together. (Laughter) It just got bigger and bigger and bigger and then the press took off with it and we were like, “Oh shoot, now we have to make it even bigger!” (Laughter) But, it’s been a fantastic journey.

TrunkSpace: What was it that brought the film so much attention and made it feel like the fuse was lit?
Birdsall: You know, it was while we were still in production. Now, when I say production I mean post production, which is when Neil Johnson goes all Peter Jackson on us and just keeps reshooting things. (Laughter) That was when it occurred to us that the press was… everything we put out there was going to larger and larger outlets and people were getting really excited about it. And that was when we just really started pouring on the heat and just making it better and better and better.

TrunkSpace: The film really is a testament to the fact that you don’t need a blank check to make a great science fiction movie.
Birdsall: What it takes besides money if you’re going to make a great sci-fi though is blood, sweat, and tears… and basically the lives of two people. (Laughter) I don’t know that most people would be willing to sacrifice what we put into this film. The only other place to replace it is to get more people and more money. So yes, it can be done. Would most people want to put in that kind of effort? I don’t think so. And I don’t know many directors who could do what he did with this. I really don’t.

TrunkSpace: So with having such a personal connection to the project and given the nature of the shoot, did it make it feel like going into the next film you shot was a bit of a breeze by comparison?
Birdsall: Not at all. (Laughter) Actually, “The Time War” principal photography was done before “Rogue Warrior” and we’ve shot three times as much on that since as when we shot in principal photography. So what it did was, we had this larger budget film that we knocked out the door first, and then “Rogue Warrior” was going to be the smaller one just to put out there and make some profit for him. And then “Rogue Warrior” got to be so big, that we had to rework “The Time War” and make it bigger. So, these things have years into them. Both of them. It’s just kind of funny how you raise the bar and then you’re like, “Oh shoot, now we have to make the last one even bigger.” (Laughter)

TrunkSpace: And what’s interesting about the science fiction genre is that it seems to have an extended shelf life in comparison to other genres.
Birdsall: It does. As a matter of fact, I rewatch sci-fi movies that are two and three decades old. We’ve been going through “Dr. Who” from the very beginning. You’re almost kind of immortalized in sci-fi, which is really, really cool because if people haven’t seen it, they want to see it because they’re sci-fi fans. They don’t just want to see it because it’s the next movie coming out. They do get watched by all sci-fi fans eventually, so they kind of have legs over and over and over again. You get into a conversation with somebody about a film like “Logan’s Run” and they’re like, “Oh shoot, I haven’t watched that in a few years. I have to go watch that again.” That’s what’s so cool about sci-fi.

TrunkSpace: And the key to transcending beyond JUST that sci-fi fanbase is giving it layers and making it just as much a character journey as a piece of special effects eye candy.
Birdsall: Yes. And that’s what this one hit on. Until the audience saw it, and I was sitting in the room with the audience for the first time, you kind of see people… we even saw a couple of press who had little tears in their eyes. People definitely go on the journey and that’s what’s so cool about it because they really aren’t expecting it. Of course, now people have heard to expect it so that will change, but it was really enjoyable to see as the performer, to see that people really got it and went along on the journey. Very rewarding.

TrunkSpace: So as you look over your career, where does “Rogue Warrior” fit in for you in terms of being a career/life changing experience?
Birdsall: Well, I’m a sci-fi geek. I grew up on sci-fi, so doing sci-fi for me is the pinnacle in itself. I still love doing comedy just because that’s like a dance, but science fiction, if I could just engulf myself in it forever I would just because it’s what I like to watch and it’s what I grew up with. My dad was really big into sci-fi and we’d sit there and eat rocky road ice cream and watch “Star Trek” when I was a kid. (Laughter) So, yeah, for me, “Rogue Warrior” is the most fun I’ve ever had, but it’s also the hardest thing I’ve ever done because there’s so many other stages to doing a huge sci-fi film and being a lead in it than there is to just knowing your lines and creating a character. There’s reacting to things that aren’t even there. There’s having relationships with robots. It’s very, very trying.

“Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter” is due in theaters June 2nd.

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